Leonard E. Cole never once lost faith in the people he loved: his wife of 62 years and his seven children. So strong was his belief in them that they found it impossible to lose faith in themselves.
Mr. Cole died Dec. 8 at the Seasons Hospice in Baltimore after he had been ill with a respiratory illness for about a month. He was 88. Though he spent much of his professional career as a chemical operator managing production duties in the DuPont and Rhône-Poulenc plants, the job that was most important to Mr. Cole was being a husband and father.
“When I was a senior at Wesleyan University, I had a psychotic break,” said his daughter, Charita Cole Brown. "I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and it was thought that I would eventually need a custodian.
"My parents had six other children. But instead of backing away from me as some people do, my parents circled around me. They loved me and stuck with me and believed I would be OK. "
Ms. Brown lived up to her parents’ rock-solid faith. She eventually married, gave birth to two daughters, became an elementary school teacher and is now the author of a memoir.
“A lot of who I am and the reason I am well today,” she said, "is because of them.”
Mr. Cole was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on July 1, 1931, the third of four children. Ms. Brown thinks that his experience of losing his older brother prematurely in World War II taught the teen to hold fast to the people he loved.
“He never got over his brother’s death,” she said. “He wore his ring on his own hand for several decades.”
After graduating from high school, Mr. Cole served in the U.S. Army from 1951 to 1953 during the Korean War, achieving the rank of sergeant before he was honorably discharged.
After the war ended, Mr. Cole relocated to Baltimore with his best friend, Willie Brooks, and lodged at a local rooming house. His landlords threw a party to celebrate the birthday of their young daughter, and invited their boarder and the girl’s teacher to attend.
Mr. Cole was smitten with Anita Harvey, the pretty teacher. The couple married on Feb. 22, 1957, and lived in the Edgecombe neighborhood of Northwest Baltimore. Their family grew quickly and eventually would include five daughters and two sons. From the beginning, Mr. Cole took his new role seriously. A high school graduate, he worked two jobs to make ends meet.
“He asked a wise older man he knew what advice he would impart for raising his children,” Ms. Brown said. “The man told my father, ‘Make sure they get the best education you can possibly give them.’ My parents took that advice to heart.”
All seven of their children graduated from high school, and most graduated from college. Three earned master’s degrees.
“It wasn’t that growing up we didn’t have difficulties,” Ms. Brown said. “ 'Good night, John Boy’ wasn’t always our story. (She was referring to the former CBS television show "The Waltons,” about an idealized Depression-era family.)
“But we always came full circle," she said. “My parents taught us that our family was all we had and that we owed it to one another to be present in their lives.”
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Mr. Cole retired from DuPont in 1996; the following year he suffered a massive stroke that paralyzed the left side of his body. Determined to remain active in his family’s life, he worked tirelessly to recover his former function. He eventually regained the ability to walk with the help of a tripod cane.
In 2013, Mr. Cole fell seriously ill once again and was sent home to die. But neither he nor his family gave up. They set up the equivalent of an assisted-living facility in Mr. Cole’s home that enabled him to live for six more years.
“The extraordinary thing about my father,” Ms. Brown said, "is that he related to all seven of his children individually. Even when he was in a wheelchair, he could tell how we were doing as soon as we walked into the room.
“He really was a patriarch.”
Mr. Cole was preceded in death by his parents, two brothers and a sister. He is survived by his wife; five daughters, Valerie Cole-James of Pikesville, Karen Wouldridge of Baltimore, Ms. Brown of Baltimore, Ernestine Nelson of Baltimore and Linda Little of White Marsh; two sons, Kelvin Cole of West Bloomfield, Michigan, and Martin Cole of Baltimore; and 12 grandchildren.